Wall Street Journal Editorial: U.S. Air-Traffic Liberation

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today on the need to upgrade the country’s “ancient” air traffic control (ATC) system. Each year, delays, cancellations and missed connections add up to $30 billion in annual economic losses. From the Journal’s editorial,

“Next time you’re 27th in line for takeoff on a airport tarmac, thank the federal government. The Federal Aviation Administration runs an air-traffic control system on the best technology World War II could offer, so it’s good news that some in Congress are trying to free up the aviation community to adopt better practices.

… “U.S. airlines will serve a billion passengers a year by 2029, but the FAA hasn’t rebooted since the 1960s. You may have more accurate traffic and weather information driving with an iPhone than a pilot cruising at 30,000 feet, as the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole puts it. Radar still tracks flight location, though GPS can beep out a more precise measurement. Flights last longer thanks to meandering routes as planes pass from one control center to the next. Inefficient patterns burn up fuel.”

Legislation from the House Transportation Committee would separate air navigation from safety regulation putting the former into a not-for-profit company while the FAA would retain authority over the latter. The GAO looked at five non-government run ATC systems around the globe and found that “safety either improved or stayed the same.” So arguments from opponents that a not-for-profit company would compromise safety are null and void. Likewise, fear-stoking from the general aviation community that they would be subjected to additional fees are contradicted by the legislation itself: private fliers are exempt from the user-fee structure.

The Wall Street Journal also sets the record straight on the real reason behind Delta’s opposition:

“Delta Air Lines says consumer fees will skyrocket, but in Canada inflation-adjusted fees have dropped by 30% since the switch. Delta’s dissent is rent-seeking: The company’s aircraft are on average years older than competing fleets, and retrofitting would be costly.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio agree that the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill is not the right path forward. And while there are still legislative hurdles to overcome, airline passengers, air traffic controllers, and the companies that depend on air transportation for commerce deserve real ATC reform.

Read the full editorial here.